Three days, three writers, one amazing lineup. The inaugural weekend of All Points East is something of a triumph.
Victoria Park might not be the most accessible part of London, particularly for those living outside of the city reliant on tube stations as landmarks, but nevertheless, having been the home of Field Day for over a decade it's also arguably the most ideal location the capital boasts for an event such as All Points East. Situated in the upwardly mobile borough of Tower Hamlets, it's size and landscape alone couldn't be more suited to an open-air, multi-staged music festival.
So it shouldn't come as to much of a surprise that the first day of All Points East runs like clockwork. On arrival at the site queues are minimal and fast flowing, while security checks are also quick and painstakingly easy even if the plastic trays and metal detectors on entry are somewhat reminiscent of those at an airport.
Once inside, all of the seven stages are clearly signposted, even though it takes approximately 15 minutes to get from one side of the site to the other. However, that ensures no sound bleed between stages so everything is crystal clear throughout. There's also quite a welcoming vibe here, again something not normally associated with London events. Granted, the scorching sunshine plays a part, but there's little to moan about here except the scurrilous food and drink prices which admittedly have become standard for London, but leave a sour taste when 24 hours later we venture to another festival in the East Midlands and pay up to £3 less for the same products.
We arrive early as Confidence Man have been given one of the graveyard slots post-lunch. Thankfully, judging by the number of people in the West Arena big top, several hundred others make a similar decision and their fifty-minute set goes down an absolute storm. Having released their excellent debut Confident Music For Confident People last month, each and every song they play is rapturously received. Indeed, what is there not to like about a Confidence Man show? There are synchronized dance routines, three separate costume changes and tunes galore. Highlights come thick and fast, not least when Janet Planet drops Screamadelica influenced summer anthem 'Out The Window' mid-set. Ending with the familiar strains of 'Boyfriend (Repeat)' and its customary request for everyone to get down before THAT final refrain, which the entire arena do. They're almost certain to be one of 2018's shining stars. Catch them while you can.
The next couple of hours are spent exploring various areas of the site. None more so than the Despacio arena, particularly as we're fortunate enough to stumble in just as James Murphy himself takes to the decks. Playing a set that veers between left field electronica, house classics and 80s pop - the extended mix of Men Without Hats' 'Safety Dance' proving exceedingly popular with those packed onto the tiny dancefloor.
Over on the East (main) Stage, Young Fathers once again demonstrate why they're widely considered to be one of the most exciting live acts on the planet right now. The Edinburgh outfit defy categorisation and while the three frontmen all fight to get their words across, we're particularly drawn to the one-man machine of a drummer Steven Morrison erroneously keeping time behind them. Meanwhile over yonder on the North Stage, Chromeo are doing their finest Prince impersonation which, to be fair, is what they do best and for that reason also proves a hit with all and sundry.
It's left to Yeah Yeah Yeahs to draw the biggest crowd of the day. Making their long-awaited and overdue return to a live setting on UK shores, the trio find themselves buoyed on by what seems like the entire population of Hackney. Bounding on stage with the exuberance of an over-excitable toddler, Karen O is as radiant as ever. They launch into an opening couplet of 'Y Control' and 'Black Tongue' which causes the whole of Victoria Park to go apeshit. For the next hour, it really is all about the hits. No new songs (if any exist?) are aired, not that anyone really cares as 'Pin', 'Gold Lion', and 'Zero' are all dispatched meticulously while the closing fifteen minutes are as good as anything we're likely to witness anywhere this year, 'Maps' segueing into 'Cheated Hearts', then 'Heads Will Roll' before an anarchic 'Date With The Night' brings the set to a close. On any other day, this would be the perfect finale.
That there's more to come speaks volumes for All Points East's programmers. The rise of LCD Soundsystem to worldwide headline status is something that happened gradually, possibly aided in no uncertain way by 2011's split then sudden reunion four years later. Always legendary on the club circuit, it's surprising how many people I've encountered since who admit to never seeing them first time round, so want to make up for lost time now. Which is just as well because the present live show is as good as it's ever been, and with the timely addition of a new album's worth of material in the shape of last year's 'American Dream', also the first time many of these songs will have been played in the flesh before a UK audience. Murphy and co play five songs off the record, 'How Do You Sleep?' and 'Oh Baby' in particular resonating with an audience already transfixed under their immortal spell. They even manage to throw in a cover of Chic's 'I Want Your Love' for good measure, Nancy Whang singing Alfa Anderson's part to perfection note for note. Unsurprisingly, the songs aired from their back catalogue trigger the loudest response so when 'Tribulations' and 'I Can Change' find themselves dispatched early pandemonium ensues out front. Closing with an epic rendition of 'All My Friends' (what else?), Murphy - visibly upset by the early curfew - instructs his band to play until they're kicked off stage. Which thankfully doesn't happen, instead evolving into its natural conclusion and therefore allowing us to exit Victoria Park like a sales force into the night.
All Points East day two boasted an exceptionally good and diverse lineup, so much so that it was hard to pick or plan exactly who would be best to watch, aside from a few key must-sees.
Our day starts, strangely, with Stefflon Don, with the Hackney-based rapper taking an early evening slot on the East Stage. A few of her chart songs are vaguely familiar, but the choreography is slick and the set makes for a good backdrop for relaxing and grabbing some food.
After that, we head to the North Stage and catch most of Soulwax’s set. The Belgian tour-de-force bringing their specific brand of electronica to Victoria Park is quite something to witness, and with five albums worth of material and additional separately released music, I really wish they could have played for longer than just an hour. In the scorching heat, every track ripples with atmosphere and energy. ‘Is It Always Binary’ and ‘Krack’ are absolute highlights of the set.
It would’ve been great to see Lykke Li too; in true festival spirit, I find myself the musical equivalent of a child in a sweet shop, wishing I could clone myself so I could experience everything the different stages had to offer.
The biggest treat of the evening, as expected, is Lorde, one of the finest alternative pop musicians around at the moment. Serving up a stunning set amalgamating both her albums, she covers all her hits, opening with the dark-pop of ‘Sober’, which is met with an overwhelmingly positive reception by the crowd. I think the festival organisers may have underestimated Lorde’s pulling power, as the stage doesn’t seem quite able to hold her and her band members, with the enormous crowd making getting close to the front or even in a good spot to see a challenge.
‘Homemade Dynamite’ makes a welcome appearance, following its notable absence from her now milestone-marking Ally Pally gig last year. Lorde’s warm and engaging personality comes through her no-buffer communication with the crowd. ‘Magnets’, her collaboration with electronic powerhouse duo Disclosure, is undented by being performed solo. The shimmering iridescence of the opening sequence of ‘Buzzcut Season’ is spine-tingling, while first album fan favourite ‘Ribs’ creates a feeling of passion and hysteria among the crowd.
The choreography is great, with Lorde’s dancers lifting her up horizontally during an interlude in ‘The Louvre’, a perfect personification of the album’s melodramatic claims. As Lorde’s most famous ballad, ‘Liability’ is performed with a true uniqueness and genuine emotion. The post-‘Royals’ section of the set sees some of the crowd depart in the direction of the East Stage for the xx’s headline performance, but Lorde only steps things up a notch after this, ending the show with the magnificent, climactic hit ‘Green Light’.
After this, we take ourselves over to watch what's left of the xx's set. Old classics such as the mesmerising ‘Crystalised’ come through really well, as does the understated yet triumphant ‘VCR’. However, with the band’s rule of only playing after nightfall well and truly implemented, the whole set has a drowsy, disengaged feel during other tracks. For those at the festival who don’t know every single track, it could easily bring about the uneasy feeling that the xx weren’t the perfect choice for a Saturday night headliner. However, iconic tracks ‘Intro’ and ‘Angels’ have a redemptive quality to close the day.
it's great to see the organisers embrace the variety of the current music scene and cater to a lot of different ticketholders. However, I can’t help that some shuffling of the lineup order would have made it an even greater success.
Reflecting the glare of the early-afternoon sun, Khruangbin kick off our Sunday at All Points East with a set of fuzzy, largely instrumental numbers on a main stage which soon begins to a emit a certain gravitational pull. This Houston-based three-piece are capable of a quite magnificent racket in the flesh - Mark Speer’s guitar looming especially large - and the versions of ‘Lady and Man’ and ‘Maria También’ which bounce around Victoria Park this afternoon make their recorded equivalents seem utterly docile.
Of course, Khruangbin are rather cool and detached at the best of times, but no mind: Mashrou’ Leila suffer from no such pretences. Known for ‘Singing loudly about gay rights in a country that doesn’t have any', this Lebanese five-piece admirably turn disco-infused indie rock into a vehicle for serious, impassioned LGBT+ activism. In songs like ‘Tayf (Ghost)’ - on which singer Hamed Sinno ensures the citizens of his “gunshot”-weary nation that “songs are still allowed” - and set-closer ‘Djin,’ the two enterprises come together seamlessly.
Later, and following glimpses of affable electronic duo Sylvan Esso and wildly popular local lad Tom Misch, we return to the main stage for Father John Misty. I’ve never fully connected with the folk-crooner’s recorded output - something about its theatricality, maybe - but the ying-yang balance of irony and humanity at the heart of his songs seems to reach a point of equilibrium today. Cuts from forthcoming LP God’s Favourite Customer (‘Please Don’t Die’; ‘Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All’) seem to suggest that Josh Tillman will continue to trade in the soulful parlour music on which he made his name, and it’s realised in full force here through the inclusion of glossy orchestral arrangements. Contrary to repute, Tillman keeps his between-song banter to a minimum this afternoon, aside from a single dry quip about the extent of his personal acquaintance with tonight’s headliner.
That headliner is Björk. With the main stage dressed up like an Elysian garden, and set against the backdrop of both a full moon and an incoming electrical storm, the Icelander rips into the first live show behind recent LP Utopia, taking precisely zero hostages with a fiery version of ‘Arisen My Senses.’ The pursuing set is largely built around songs from that recent album, with ‘Blissing Me’ and ‘Losss’ proving particularly viscous to the extent that they still stick in my memory now. Behind the masked singer, a small army of instrumentalists - a harpist; somebody operating various electronics; percussionist Manu Delago; notably, the flute septet (VIIbra)[https://www.facebook.com/VIIbraflutes] - bring the breathy, human sound of that recent LP to life.
The last time Björk was on these shores it was in support of Vulnicura, a record which detailed the straits and failures of her late marriage. The audience that night seemed to want for little more than they received; certainly, nobody could have foreseen that soon thereafter her remaining tour dates would have been cancelled because the intensity of performing those nine songs proved too draining. But tonight it is clear that what was once arduous is now full of ardour: “thank you!,” she yips with the trill cadence of a Tamagotchi, on several occasions. As the set progresses, the flora and fauna which make up the staging - both physically and in the vibrant projections which fill the screens behind and beside her - begin to flower and bloom. And, as the whole thing reaches terminal velocity (via a rare and roaring outing of Debut’s ‘Human Behaviour,’ no less), so too that sense of elation begins to flourish, and it’s one that not even a disappointingly brief come-down of an encore (Utopia’s beautiful but strangely placid ‘Features Creatures’) can upset.
The inaugural All Points East was a seamlessly run and largely well-curated affair; assuming it nurtures a stronger sense of its own identity over the coming years, it is surely a festival poised to become a significant new mark on the capital’s musical calendar.
All Points East continues this weekend. For more information about the festival, and to buy tickets, please visit their official website.
Banner photo: John Curtis Hughes
All other photos as credited